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Winchester Thurston girls basketball team plans to take a knee during national anthem tonight

January 12, 2018 GMT

When Winchester Thurston’s girls basketball team suggested kneeling during the national anthem, coach Monica Williams insisted it couldn’t be a meaningless gesture. “I told them we will not kneel for the national anthem if it’s just because everybody else is doing it,” Williams said. “There has to be a reason behind it.”

So the players researched the topic, drafted a speech condemning “racism, sexism and discrimination,” and presented it to their school and classmates, said Williams, adding that “everybody loved it.”

As a result, Winchester Thurston’s girls basketball team will kneel for home games this season, including Thursday night when the team hosts Aquinas Academy. A paragraph explaining the demonstration is read before the team kneels, Williams said, which states: “This year our team has chosen to kneel during the national anthem. We don’t believe we should stand for a song that refers to our country as the land of the free and home of the brave when racism, sexism and discrimination are prominent factors in our daily lives. We are a diverse team and want to show that we are all affected by inequality in this country.”

Winchester Thurston is the defending WPIAL Class A champion. The team already knelt once this season for a Jan. 4 home game against Clairton.

“When we did it the first time, the whole audience kneeled too,” Williams said. “It was like nobody stood up. It was really crazy, and I was shocked it was taken that well. … Maybe one person stood up in the stands.”

The team will stand during the national anthem for road games, she said.

Gary J. Niels, head of school at Winchester Thurston, met with the basketball team’s three captains in December and found their explanation “very thoughtful.”

“They were coming to me and I heard them saying, Mr. Niels, will the school get behind us?” Niels said. “What I said to them was, the school really believes in supporting students in their beliefs and in their statements ... and we would support them. This is not a political statement on the part of the school. Our school spans the political spectrum with the families here. But this is the school’s decision to support their students in their own quest to understand and view the world in their own ways.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.